Epitaph to a Dog

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The poem as inscribed on Boatswain's monument
A Landseer Newfoundland dog, the breed Byron eulogized, painted by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1802–1873

Epitaph to a Dog (also sometimes referred to as 'Inscription on the Monument to a Newfoundland Dog') is a poem by the British poet Lord Byron. It was written in 1808 in honour of his Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, who had just died of rabies. When Boatswain contracted the disease, Byron reportedly nursed him without any fear of becoming bitten and infected.[1] The poem is inscribed on Boatswain's tomb, which is larger than Byron's, at Newstead Abbey, Byron's estate.[2]

The opening lines, long thought to have been written by Byron, were found to have been written by his friend John Hobhouse. Byron had originally planned to use just the last two lines as the inscription.[3]

Epitaph to a Dog[4][edit]

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.

This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
Boatswain, a Dog
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808


When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one -- and here he lies.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wisdom Magazine article: Lord Byron; leading figure of Romanticism in English
  2. ^ Eisler, B. 1999. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. New York: Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 0-679-41299-9 p 161
  3. ^ "Accessed 2007-9-8". Dogquotations.com. Retrieved 2010-01-29. 
  4. ^ Lord Byron (1808). "Epitaph to a Dog". A Collection Of Poems. Retrieved 2008-11-20.